In a July cover article titled “The Web Means the End of Forgetting,” the New York Times Magazine explored how the Internet is changing privacy. Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported on Google’s “soul-searching” over the question of how far to go in “profiting from its crown jewels -- the vast trove of data it possesses about people’s activities.”
Rohini Srihari, who teaches classes on Web search and mining and is founder and CEO of Janya Inc., a text analysis/text mining firm, understands the potential of data mining -- and the complicated concerns it raises.Rohini K. Srihari
Srihari: Practically everyone. The telecoms, credit card agencies, major retailers, airlines, e-commerce providers like Amazon -- all of these entities are engaged in data mining. One emerging technology is socially targeted advertising. Companies that provide this service analyze the browsing patterns of brand loyalists, identify Internet users with similar browsing patterns, and use that information to target advertising. The success stories of companies attracting new customers through socially targeted advertising are amazing.What are some interesting challenges that researchers and companies face when mining data on the Web?
Srihari: The No. 1 challenge is balancing privacy with data mining. We’ve come to a stage where we do less than we can for fear of spooking the public. How do you gain enough information to help a retailer without creating a backlash? You don’t want people to feel like you’re invading their privacy. There are technical challenges, like making sense of text with multiple languages or spelling mistakes, but it’s achieving that balance between data mining and privacy that is the No. 1 challenge.
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